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Authors: Victoria Rexroth

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BOOK: A Wonderful Life
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Her name was Joanne, “but call me Joannie” is what she would always say to people. She had a wonderful life, and she would be the first one to tell you that.

“Robert's very successful,” she would gloat, “so successful that I don't have to work if I don't want to. Oh, I'm not a housewife, at least not like those women that sit at home all day and watch ‘Oprah.’ No, I prefer the news; keeps me up to date and all that.”  Then she would go silent for awhile and not say anything to anyone. She seemed to act that way a lot.

She was the prom queen in high school. Well, the runner-up actually, but Jenny McCaffrey had her period that week and wasn't up to the task of riding on the float, so by default she was the prom queen. And she never let you forget that either.

“My older daughter Vicky is just like I was when I was her age, so beautiful and special. She says I'm her most special friend,” she would say with a radiant look on her face. “I'm very proud of her.”

What Joannie won't say is that her fourteen year old daughter doesn't want to be seen anywhere in public with her mother or that she throws royal fits whenever she doesn't get her way. At first, the rants didn't work, and Joannie took them with a grain of salt, but then she started to get really bad headaches. When the headaches became migraines, she started giving in a lot easier to her daughter. Then the headaches wouldn't go away until she found a good stiff drink would do just the trick. Then it would take a couple of drinks, but she always knew she could stop any time she wanted to. Then one day, she discovered she couldn't stop, and it was already too late to tell anybody about it. So she did her drinking in private, taking the empty wine bottles to the neighbors' trash cans so Robert wouldn't see them when he came home and then wouldn't know anything, wouldn't suspect anything. When he started distancing himself from her, she didn't understand what was going on, so she drank more. And he just became more distant. The drinking didn't make things better, but it helped her forget anything was wrong, and sometimes that was as good as it could get.

They found her face-down, passed out on the kitchen floor one afternoon. She tried to explain it away, but once the veil was lifted from her secret life, the lies, the hurt, the everything were no longer easy to hide. Still, she couldn't bring herself to believe she had a problem. Such problems were for those who couldn't control themselves, not someone like her.

One morning, after sleeping through the alarm and taking a few drinks just to stop the pounding migraine in her head, she found herself in her usual rush, so she backed the car over her younger daughter whose playing had filtered over to the garage because Joannie was too drunk to notice or to even care. There was a sudden impact, a tiny scream and then silence.

The district attorney refused to prosecute her for murder, feeling she had suffered enough by losing her daughter, but Joannie was forced to agree to an alcohol treatment program as part of a plea bargain that included six months in a women’s' prison. Everyone felt so bad for Joannie, for the loss she had caused by her own actions. They tried to take it easy on her while at the same time their consciences called for vengeance of some type.  When she finished her time, she was released in hopes that she might restart her life, although the crime would probably never be forgotten.

Joannie was found on the next morning of her newfound freedom in the bathtub, the water still running and the blood gone after leaving her body through her slashed wrists. The sleeping pills hadn't even had time to take effect before she was clinically dead.

Her name was Joanne, “but call me Joannie” is what she would always say to people. She had a wonderful life, and she would be the first to tell you that.


The End



I've traveled a lot of roads in my time, and they always lead to the same place. This road I'm on leads to Chicago. But I'll let you in on a little secret. I got to Chicago, and it wasn't there.

--from the journal of Danielle Browne, Drifter


              The first words I remember were from the doctor:  “Let's see now...Your name is...Danielle. At least that's what you said when you were brought in here.” There was a wide grin on his face as he spoke.  “I wouldn't worry about it. We get cases like yours all the time. You'll be just fine.”


              My name is Danielle...I think. At least that's what they tell me. I don't know how long I've been here, but I know that I've been on this road for a long time, and something tells me it leads somewhere I need to be.

They seem to care; I can feel that.  They hover around me offering me things, insuring that everything with me is okay.  They never seem to leave my side, just asking me things over and over, and yet, somehow I get the feeling they expect results from me.  I just don't know what they are.

I remember the road.  That much I know.  It's a long, endless road that stretches from one edge of the country to the other.  I don't remember how I got to where I am now, but I do remember that I've been traveling this road for a long time.  I've met a lot of people, taken a lot of off ramps, and it seems like my whole life has been one series of travels after another...each venture bringing me closer and closer to Chicago.

But each time I get closer to that's not there.  I know it has to be there, right in front of me, but it's like someone took it and snatched it away from me.  And I can't get over this feeling that it might just be my fault.


              That sound. I hear it everywhere I go.  I heard it when I first started on this journey…
I remember that now.  I was in some place and then I knew I had to get to Chicago.  If I didn't get there...I can see it but I can't put my fingers on it.  If I didn't get to Chicago, something terrible was going to, something terrible
going to happen.  I can feel it all around's's right in front of me.

That's what the cop was telling me when he found me walking alongside the freeway.


Cop: Don't seem to get many out of towners walking this stretch of road.

Me: I'm trying to get to

Cop:  Why the hell would you want to go to
Chicago?  Everybody knows there's no opportunity there.  Place done dried up years ago.

Me: I don't know why, but I need to get there.  I've been taking road after road to get there, but they all seem to branch out and none seem to reach it.

Cop:  (laughs) You've fallen into the trap of all visitors.  You have to remember the journey in order to travel it again.  I assume you've been there before?

Me:  A friend took me there a long time ago.

Cop:  So, this is your first solo journey?  Well, I wouldn't sweat it.  The first solo journey is the hardest, but once you've done it, you'll be reaching Chicago more times than you'd care to do in your simple lifetime.

Me:  So, how do I get there from here?

Cop:  I'm afraid you're the only one who can answer that.  My job is just to make sure you don't break any of our laws in getting there.

Me:  But what if I can't find it?

Cop:  Then terrible things will happen.  I can't take you there, but I can warn you that terrible things will occur if you don't make it.


              The doctor again:  “So, I would say we're making progress.”  He kept checking over my chart almost as if he wasn’t completely sure of himself.  “You seem to have regained a bit of your knowledge.  Yet, why would you be trying to reach Chicago if you've been there before?  Why are you having so much trouble finding it?”  There he was with the chart again.  “Does it have something to do with the child?


The child.

I found the child on the side of the road.  A car had been overturned, and the other occupants dead.  I was intending to keep walking when I saw the child sticking out of the side of the smashed window.  When I came up to him, I took a long look at him and didn't know what to do.  There was no one else around.  I was alone with him, and I didn't know what to do.  There was blood everywhere, and I think he was dying.  As I sat on the ground next to him, I didn't know what to do.  He was dying before me, and I couldn't even raise a hand to save him.


              Florence runs a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, somewhere on the edge of the road that heads into Chicago.  She saw me down on my luck when I came across her truck stop and then offered me a job washing dishes so that I could pick up some survival money until I was able to continue on my journey.  I always liked Florence; she was the kind of person who belonged somewhere else as she stood beside me in the kitchen handing me dishes and silverware as I cleaned them.  I would stand there saying: "dish" and she would hand me a dish.  Or I would say, "fork" and one would appear in my hands for cleaning.  Or "knife" and then....


              That sound...I hear it all the time. It’s a beating sound, almost like…like….


              I stood over the child unsure of what to do.  He was definitely dying.  I could tell that just by looking at him.  Florence was sitting on the pavement behind me stating that she wasn't sure I could do it.  The cop was on the other side of the car telling me that if I didn't reach Chicago soon, nothing could be saved.  I was lost, unsure of myself, knowing that this child's survival depended on me, and I would have to do something to save him, or he was going to die.

It didn't seem fair.  I didn't deserve to be here having to make such decisions.  I'm a drifter, someone who's wandering from one town to another.  Why in God's name should I ever have to go to Chicago in the first place?  And if I ever did find it, would I know what to do once I was finally there?


Doctor:  We've made great progress, Danielle.  Tell me what you remember about the child.

Me:  I was losing him, Doctor.  I was losing him because I
didn't know what to do.

Doctor:  And why is that?


Florence stood behind me and handed me a fork as I asked for it.  The cop was out on the road directing traffic, and I could sense the doctor standing to my side making sure that I knew exactly whom I was.  For the first time, I suspected what the problem was.


That beating sound again…much like the beat of a….


              "Traffic is not flowing to the central hub because the roads to Chicago are completely blocked," I said. The doctor nodded, the cop smiled and then Florence waited for further information. I began to realize what needed to be done.


Me:  So, how do I get there from here?

Cop:  I'm afraid you're the only one who can answer that.  My job is just to make sure you don't break any of our laws in getting there.


“Yet, why would you be trying to reach Chicago if you've been there before?  Why are you having so much trouble finding it?”  He checked the chart one more time.  “Does it have something to do with the child?”


              I would stand there saying: "dish" and she would hand me a dish.  Or I would say, "fork" and one would appear in my hands for cleaning.  Or "knife" and then....


              I turned to Florence who was standing directly behind me in the operating room.  "I'm seeing a case of brochogenic carcinoma with this patient causing the obstruction of the superior vena cava.  That would explain the evidence of the increased blood volume, the capillary leakage and these grossly distended veins."  She nodded in agreement as did the doctor who was standing on the other side of the room verifying the procedure.  I didn't see the cop, but I knew he was in the room somewhere watching what was going on.

I turned back to Florence.  "I'll need a blunt probe and scissors.  We're going to have to treat this as a superior vena cava syndrome."


              It was my first heart surgery.  I tried to tell the others what had happened, that I had panicked during the procedure, but the end seemed to justify all of the means.  I couldn't explain enough how scared I was.  This man, this child, turned over his life to me to make him better, and I didn't know how I was qualified to take his life into my hands.  I was scared, and I could have lost him.

Since that day, I've traveled that road many times, each time making me a little more confident in my abilities.  While I always see the cop on the side of the road making sure I don't break his laws, I'm a lot more confident in my ability to reach Chicago. I don't drift as much as I did that first time, but that doesn't mean the trip isn't as hazardous each time I take it.



BOOK: A Wonderful Life
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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